Monday, February 22, 2016

Raymond’s letter to The New Paper: DOMESTIC HELPERS: Think of the struggles they face back home

My letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today, Monday 22 February 2016

I applaud our local celebrities and the media for raising awareness of the lives and struggles of our domestic helpers in their home countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines (“Close look, closer bond”; The New Paper on Tuesday, Feb 16).

In these countries, natural disasters result in many people experiencing severe hardships.

In the Philippines, during typhoons, power supply is cut off and people in the provinces have to go down to the river to wash their clothing.  This can be dangerous as the current can pull them in.  

Communication links also break down and domestic helpers here get anxious when they are unable to contact their loved ones back home. 

On a recent visit to Manila, I saw abandoned children begging for pesos to buy a meal.  They sleep in supermarkets and food centres.

I gave what I could and their smiles made my day.     

In Singapore, you turn on the tap, you get water; you turn on the switch, and your lights come on.

This is not always the case in countries like the Philippines, especially during natural disasters.

It is not unusual to see children studying by candlelight there. 

Singaporeans are fortunate in that no one here will be deprived of food, electricity or water.

This is why employers must treat their domestic helpers, who toil day and night, with compassion and kindness.  

I have admiration for these workers, who send money home so that their loved ones can have a better life,  and it  delights me when I see families enjoying a meal with their helpers.




Sunday, February 21, 2016

Much support needed for widowed caregivers who take on multiple roles: An open letter to The Singapore Government

There are many caregivers who take on dual roles in the exhausting caregiving journey as correctly pointed out by the Dr Kalyani Mehta, Chairman of Silver Caregivers Cooperative in her letter to the press (“Caregivers need training, societal recognition”; The Straits Times Forum page, Friday 20th February 2016).

There are many caregivers who  are caring for more than one relative who have psychological issues.  And I am glad that Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Health, Dr Amy Khor finally recognises the need for caregivers to be trained for preparation in psychological issues in their elderly charges. 

Even though efforts are being made to provide support for caregivers, those who are challenged by psychological issues could well do with more speedy assistance, whether it is financial or proper recognition on a national level.

I am relating a personal experience so that others who are a similar predicament or who come after me will not have to go through severe hardships until they are pushed to the brink of insanity .  When my late wife passed away suddenly in April 2014, my whole world came crashing down as I experienced unconditional love from her for 40 years, despite having to struggle in caring for her schizophrenia and severe arthritis chronic illnesses.  Her loss devastated me.  Overnight, love that she unselfishly gave me for four decades vanished, leaving me to struggle with insomnia for one whole year.  Getting support as I cried myself to sleep every night was very difficult. 

Dr Mehta mentioned in her press letter that there are several organisations that cater to caregivers such as AWWA Centre for Caregivers, Caregivers Association of the Mentally Ill and Icare.  But my question is where were all these organisations when I was trying so hard to cope with grief and insomnia for one whole year.   And it is not as if the press – English and Chinese didn’t report my wife’s passing?  Surely there must be a system in place when agencies who read of such losses respond swiftly rather than my having to write an endless stream of letters and several phone calls pleading for support. I am educated and computer literate, but what about elderly caregivers who are not?

If support groups cannot understand what people like us go through, as we try to rebuild our lives, then who can?

Having been my wife’s sole caregiver for 40 years, I now also have to provide some caregiving support to my 92- year-old aged mother who resides in a nursing home by visiting her twice a week, and also to my twin brother who has depression. 

Caregiving if it is shared equally among ALL siblings will help relieve the tremendous stress I am going through.  I am physically and mentally drained.

It is coming to 2 years now and I still feel my wife’ s loss, because grieving takes time; it  comes and goes , more so when I have to lend support to my mom who has Parkinson’s Disease  and my twin brother who has depression. And it can be overwhelming!  

My daily routine everyday for the past 2 years is to pray to my wife at the church where her ashes are laid, as it gives me satisfaction to stay connected to her.  This is what unconditional love is all about.

Therefore, my caregiving task is to some extent is three times over.  With having to do all the housework by myself, these multiple tasks can mentally and physically drain me out.  Even though I was trying to cope with gastric flu this week with medicine, I had no choice but to mop my whole house on 20th February 2016.  I had to stop a few times as I was feeling giddy.  With NTUC Fairprice now securing more volunteers, it will help if they or volunteers from other companies or agencies step forward to help, rather than expect me to pay for this and that.

With the lack of support for people like myself, the only way I can come out of this difficult scenario is to find love again, and I am trying so hard to do it.  Who says that if you are a widow, you cannot get married again?  In the USA, it is very common for those who have lost their loved ones to get married again.   History has proven that loneliness and isolation can do a lot of damage, sometimes leading to suicide.

To this end, it would help if the Government can facilitate activities that allow widowers and widows to find the right partner – whether they are locals or foreigners.  If we have the Social Development Unit for the young, then why can’t we have clubs that support the elderly lonely for such an imitative?

At the end of the day, the community, the Government and the press must be willing to accept feedback and act on reports, stepping forward to help so that the vulnerable in our society can lead better  and more fruitful lives.

When I proposed that NCMPs be mentored by MPs so that the experience gained can benefit all our citizens, no one bothered to reply.  It is futile to give suggestions and feedback which the Government constantly seeks, but it gets ignored.



Monday, February 1, 2016

AN OPEN PUBLIC SUGGESTION TO THE SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT: MPs mentoring NCMPs will benefit all our people and make improvements to the political system

Monday 1st February 2016


In an effort to improve the political system in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in Parliament last week that the Constitution will be amended to give Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) the same voting rights as Members of Parliament (MPs) and that the number of opposition MPs, including NCMPs at the next election will be increase from 9 to 12.

Many Singaporeans, including Permanent Residents and even foreigners, approach our elected MPs at The Meet-The-Peoples’ Sessions (MPS) for assistance on a range of issues because they are there to help resolve any problems to make life easier for everyone. 

Problems identified

Unlike elected MPs, the NCMPs are not in any way involved in The Meet-The-Peoples’ sessions and would therefore not fully understand the issues faced by the residents, many of whom are going through challenges.

Many people and they include the Workers Party politicians are not in favour of the NCMP scheme and have voiced their concerns in Parliament.

Listening and looking at the debate, I can feel, as many people do, that the remarks and rebuttals made does not put both the alternative voices and the ruling party in good light.  Name calling or sarcastic remarks will only sour relations, and this is not good for teamwork.   

Often, it is not WHAT we say, but HOW we say it.

What is needed for a 1st world parliament is constructive criticism with good ideas and suggestions that can improve the lives of all our people living here – Singaporeans and foreigners.

Proposed solution

I had suggested in The Straits Times that for the benefit of our people, the Government should allow NCMPs to understudy the elected MPs, and the said letter was published on Saturday 30th January 2016 in the Online Section of the newspaper.  It would have been much better if the letter was printed on the hard copy, but I guess the editors had their reasons.  To understand the HOWS and the WHAT FORS, I give more details of what I proposed here:

In the interests of all our citizens and to make Singapore the best home to live in, I suggest that the Prime Minister allows the NCMPs to partner elected MPs – be they be from the ruling party or the opposition at the weekly MPS so that they fully understand ground sentiments and can make a positive change in improving the lives of all our people. 

Tangible/Intangible benefits

Once these elected NCMPS gain insightful peeks into the lives of our citizens, they can be empowered to bring about change and help the government improve the quality of life for everyone, and this will surely augur well for our leaders. Then, the added advantages will be that our NCMPs through such training will have hands-on experience and can even help ease the workload of our MPs who are seeing more and more cases every week. 

These NCMPs can also participate at the MPs periodic dialogue sessions; accompany the elected MPs during their walkabouts or when home visits are conducted. 

Promising NCMPs can then be fielded as candidates in the next General Elections and this will surely be beneficial to Singaporeans and foreigners alike.  The other tangible benefit is that there will be far better teamwork between the alternative MPs/NCMPs and the PAP. But at the end of the day, the ruling party must be open to the idea of trying out new and bold ideas.  After all, it is PEOPLE and IDEAS that make a NATION.

We should not just be looking at numbers, but the quality of MPs and NCMPs that will eventually make Singapore the best home to live, work and play in.

I would appreciate it if the Government could give me a reply. Thank you.



Letter to The Straits Times: Allow NCMPs to partner elected MPs

My letter to The Straits Times on the above subject was  published on Saturday 30th January 2016.

Many Singaporeans, including permanent residents and even foreigners, approach our elected MPs at Meet-the-People Sessions for assistance on a range of issues.

Unlike elected MPs, Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) are not involved in these sessions where MPs try to help residents with their woes.

In the interests of all our citizens and to make Singapore the best home to live in, I suggest that NCMPs be allowed to partner elected MPs at the Meet-the-People Sessions, so that NCMPs can better understand concerns on the ground and make better contributions in Parliament.

Raymond Anthony Fernando